In this posting we explore an issue on the very edge of research and investigation where the information available is limited and still very preliminary but is nevertheless intriguing. We’re going to take a look at the link between crime and diet.
The questions are: Could violence and crime be caused in some measure by nutritional deficiencies in general? And furthermore, could either producing or consuming meat incline a person to violence and crime?
Before we jump into some of the research, let’s take a step back and consider the issue. As we all know, our behavior is mostly controlled by our brain, an organ weighing only about three pounds. Now we know that every organ in the human body requires nutrition to function properly and when it doesn’t get it, it functions abnormally. So is there any reason that the brain should be an exception to this? The human brain is perhaps the most remarkable and the most complex material in the universe. Isn’t it just possible that if it doesn’t get the right nutrition, it might not work as well as it should?
Several researchers had the hunch that it wouldn’t take much in the way of nutritional deficiencies to cause changes in behavior including criminal behavior, so they investigated the matter.
Oxford University researcher Bernard Gesch, publishing his research in The British Journal of Psychiatry,showed that nutritional supplements alone would reduce antisocial behavior in prison, including violence and other offenses, by 35%. They were able to prove that this wasn’t due to a placebo effect because those receiving phony supplements showed no improvement at all. Something real was happening.
In another study conducted by the Dutch Ministry of Justice in Holland, those prisoners receiving nutritional supplements showed a 34% reduction in violent behavior.
Other researchers have seen results with supplements as well. For instance, one study showed that nutritional supplements were more powerful in reducing repeat offenses by criminals on probation than counseling.
Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, chief inspector of British prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now “absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behavior, both that bad diet causes bad behavior and that good diet prevents it.”
And it wasn’t just on the other side of the Atlantic where researchers were coming up with links between diet and crime. Professor of Criminology and Sociology at California State University, Stephen Shoenthaler, has been studying the effects of vitamins on inmates in California for the last 20 years. In a study among young offenders in California, Shoenthaler found that young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems.
And in a large study of prison diets in California, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Florida, Shoenthaler found that prisoner’s eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. Now normally, past violent behavior is considered the best prediction of future violence. But professor Shoenthaler found that a poor diet is an even better predictor of violent behavior.
So where do vegetarian diets fit into all of this? Well, since vegetarian diets represent nutrition par excellence, we would expect some pretty definite effects.
Meet Robert King. King was sentenced to a 28 year term at Powhatan Correctional Center in Virginia for burglary. When he got to prison King weighed 275 pounds and was addicted to cocaine. Since that time he has eaten his way back to physical and mental health. King became a near vegan through a special program at the prison, and it had a big effect on him. He lost 50 pounds, freed himself of drug dependency and earned 53 credits at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College with an A average. King credited his new diet for his big turnaround and said “it all begins and ends with my diet.” The Corrections Facility Director Tom Parlett confirmed the effect of the better diet on the inmates in the program, and said that he had seen their whole attitudes change.
So prisoners who give up eating meat improve their behavior. How about the effect of meat on those who produce it, slaughterhouse workers for instance? Would merely producing meat incline a person to violence and crime?
University of Windsor Criminology professor Amy Fitzgerald says statistics show that there may be a link between slaughterhouses and brutal crime . In a recent study, Fitzgerald crunched numbers from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report database, census data, and arrest and offence reports from 581 U.S. counties from 1994 to 2002. According to the professor, as the number of slaughterhouse workers in a community increases, the crime rate also increases. Fitzgerald controlled for factors such as the influx of new residents and other factors when slaughterhouses first open but the data was clear.
Nor could the violence be blamed on factory work itself. Fitzgerald compared slaughterhouse communities to those with comparable industries — dangerous, repetitive work that didn’t involve killing animals. These were not associated with a rise in crime at all. The numbers leave few explanations other than the slaughterhouses being somehow involved.
According to Professor Fitzgerald, “The unique thing about slaughterhouses is that the workers are not dealing with inanimate objects, but instead dealing with live animals coming in and then killing them and processing what’s left of them.”
For now, this is all we know about the link between diet and crime. Much more research needs to be done before we can fully understand the matter.
In the meantime, please take note. We don’t condone any crime by anyone for any reason, and we believe that regardless of their diet, all people must be held responsible for their crimes. However, if these and other studies linking diet and crime are confirmed, a great breakthrough may be at hand. Crime takes a massive toll on society, in both money and human suffering, for criminal and victim alike.
We don’t claim that malnutrition is the only cause of crime, nor is it the only solution. But if better nutrition in general, and a vegetarian diet in particular, can bring about a substantial reduction in violent crime, that would be something to cheer about. For isn’t a good diet, made up of good food, a better and a less expensive solution than just hiring more police and building more prisons?